By Alahandra Jones
It is often said that one person can change the world. But, if you ask Kevin Carroll, he might say that what changes the world is not a person at all, but a thing. A ball, to be specific.
On July 20, the best selling author (“Rules of the Red Rubber Ball,” “What’s Your Red Rubber Ball?!” and The Red Rubber Ball at Work), motivational speaker, artist and activist appeared at COCA to debut his latest project, “The Art of Sport + Play.” The exhibit is a collection of handcrafted balls from all of the places Carroll has traveled—a celebration of movement and physicality.
The exhibit premieres just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which kick off July 27. Carroll says the energy from the games, a time when the whole world is cheering on sport and praising physicality, largely influenced the opening—and when he discovered that Wash U, just five minutes from COCA, was the backdrop of the 1904 games, it almost seemed fated.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Carroll played almost every sport under the sun, from football and soccer to ice hockey and lacrosse. He reminisces about a time he and his friends used trays from the school cafeteria to try their hands at bobsledding. Carroll says he doesn’t have a favorite sport, but the lessons he learned while playing them as a kid still surface in his adult life.
“It taught a lot of us about goal setting, dealing with disappointment, team work, problem solving, goal setting, imagination,” he says.
The list continues, but these are the lessons that Carroll puts much of his faith in—as well as the belief that sport can provoke social change.
The power of a ball can be understood, but at the same time go unnoticed. Enormous crowds are drawn to watch sporting events hinging largely on a spherical object. Carroll and other activists have used this social mechanism to convene people, then withhold play to discuss important social issues. Using this model, they formed the sport-for-good organization, Beyond Sport. Involved from the beginning, Carroll has seen its conference grow from 200 to 1,000 participants.
Another outlet for worldly change through sport is the “One World Futbol Project.” A partnership between Chevrolet and Sting’s “One” campaign, it provides virtually indestructible balls to disadvantaged communities, such as refugee camps, war zones and disaster areas.
Carroll says the world is in great need of sport, but also creativity. His workshop, “Find Your Red Rubber Ball,” focuses on authentic story telling and helping people find their own red rubber balls—a metaphor for one’s dream or calling. Carroll uses the red rubber ball to signify his first play experience, fondly remembering playing kickball as a child, which helped him find his place among the crowd.
Chasing balls soon became chasing his dreams. But often, one must fight in order for their dreams to be actualized. This is something Carroll knows well. The CEO, or Chief Encouraging Officer, of his life (a position he believes everyone should recruit for) is his wife. His family has always been a source of joy and inspiration, he says, but also humility.
Event with all his recent success, Carroll doesn’t take himself too seriously. On his website you can find an “Adult Resignation” that aims to give adults a new perspective by taking a whimsical oath to return to the responsibilities of an eight-year-old.
Carroll lists many of his inspirations. He plays the cello and naturally enjoys classical music. “It sounds like someone is sharing their feelings,” he says. Music offers him another outlet to himself and another community to learn and grow from. Chocolate also ranks high on the list. Always in search for new chocolate shops, Carroll has already found one in St. Louis: Kakao Chocolate in Maplewood. Whether in town or back home in Portland, his favorite is the caramel sea salts.
Carroll thanks his friend, Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, for sharing with him the art of storytelling. It is this tool Carroll owes much of his success. But more than anyone, it seems, his gratitude extends to his best friend’s mom, Mizz Lane. She was the one who gave him permission to dream big; their relationship has thrived throughout the last 44 years.
Throughout Carroll’s work and experiences, he has helped others understand who they are and what their purpose is. But how does he see himself?
“I am a forever curious spirit, and someone who believes that anything is possible.”
See “The Art of Sport + Play” exhibit for yourself at COCA (524 Trinity Avenue) until September 16.